Giving dirty garlic bulbs the brush-off

Before and after: The dry but unclean bulbs, below, scrubbed up and ready to store.

Before and after: The dry but unclean bulbs, below, scrubbed up and ready to store.

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GROWING garlic is easy enough, but many people seem stumped after they’ve lifted them out of the ground – what do you do next?

First, the actual lifting – don’t just pull the leaves (which should be nicely yellowed). Loosen the soil around the row with a fork, then gently ease them out of the ground.

Brush off the majority of the muck and then they need to dry. You can use them “green” ie, freshly pulled, but the whole idea is to store them well into the winter.

The bulbs need to be somewhere dry and warm – a greenhouse, conservatory or porch is ideal.

Lay them out on a rack or staging where air can circulate, then just leave them to it. If you see any black patches developing, trim up the bulb and use them first.

After three-four weeks, the foliage should be off-white and quite dry and crispy. If you can see any green left in the stems, or there’s a bit of “give” in them, leave them a bit longer.

Then the fun begins – I’d strongly advise cleaning them off outside, because you’ll end up filthy. You’ll need a wide bucket to catch the rubbish, scissors and an old toothbrush (or one belonging to someone who’s recently offended you).

Trim the roots close to the bulb – but don’t damage the basal plate, or they won’t store well. Strip off the papery outer layers until the bulb is clean, brush off dirt round the roots with the toothbrush and then trim the stem to the desired length.

I say “desired length” because some of you will want to plait them. I’m afraid I don’t do this, as I couldn’t even plait my daughter’s hair properly. Shameful, but true.

All I do is bunch about six bulbs together, all different lengths, so they are not touching, then tie the stems together tightly with twine. It’s not as pretty, but much faster.

Then they are hung in the basement where it’s dry and cool and last into the new year.